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Friday 13 November 2020

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (27)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (27)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

Until somebody pointed it out to me – perhaps wanting to send me a message? – I had no idea that Friday 13 November was World Kindness Day, or at least that that is how some countries have labelled it since 1998 (at least, to be a little unkind, if Wikipedia's entry can be believed). Apparently there has also been a Kindness Day UK since 2011, though I must confess that it had passed me by. But no one living in Japan will be unaware that this weekend marks the Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3) Festival, unless they stay indoors the whole time, for the sight of three- and five-year-old boys and three- and seven-year-old girls being paraded around in their beautiful kimono by proud parents is so charming as to be unforgettable. We all wish we could be there to witness it, but in any case for all families who would like to celebrate the festival here in the UK, the education team at the Japan Society have put together a lovely 7-5-3 educational resource that can be downloaded.
 
It feels fitting indeed that the news this week has been a little kinder to us than of late, especially the announcement by Pfizer of the US and its German partner, BioNTech, that its vaccine has proven to be 90% effective, which is beyond most expectations, and that it expects to secure authorisation by many national regulators very soon. We know by now not to expect instant miracles, and that distributing the vaccine will be logistically complex given that it needs to be transported and stored at very low temperatures. But still it is pretty cheering news, especially given that other vaccines including the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca one that I keep loyally mentioning are also nearing the conclusion of their trials. In other good news, in keeping with the optimistic mood, the flame for the Tokyo Olympics began a journey on Monday 9 November that will take it through 14 prefectures during the next four months, so as to help rekindle enthusiasm for the Games.
 
I’m not sure I could describe our webinar on 13 November on the security and geopolitical consequences of the US elections either as kind to the defeated-but-disputatious President Trump nor especially optimistic, for our speakers Sir John Scarlett and Nobukatsu Kanehara took us on a tour of the world’s toughest foreign-policy problems. For those who missed it, the video of the webinar can be viewed here. Yet although both speakers were realistic about the difficulties, both did argue that an American president with a more multilateral approach, and thus more collaboration with allies, would stand a better chance of at least countering some of these issues. From a Japanese point of view, it was good to hear clear-thinking about the fact that any road to progress on North Korea must inevitably pass through Beijing. For me, a particular nugget from Sir John was his reminder that the history of close US-UK collaboration on intelligence can be traced back to 8 February 1941 when American and British officials met secretly at Bletchley Park to exchange information they had each obtained about Japanese and German military codes respectively. This, remember, was still 10 months before the United States formally entered the Second World War. “The Special Relationship” is a somewhat meaningless cliché in discourse about Britain and America, with the notable and continuing exception of intelligence.
 
The Japan Society's next current affairs and business webinar on 26 November will feature a special UK-Japan relationship, namely the 2015 acquisition of the Financial Times by Nikkei. Our guest will be Lionel Barber, who stepped down in January this year after 14 years as the FT’s editor. We will discuss how the commercial and editorial relationship with Nikkei has developed, the longer term process of transforming the FT from a print into a principally digital publication, and no doubt some issues in current affairs. Lionel moved very fast earlier this year to write and then publish his diaries of his term as editor, which I reviewed in last weekend's FT. Then on 8 December we will host a discussion about the new UK-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, which is also a chance to welcome Hiroshi Matsuura back to London as Deputy Chief of Mission, having previously acted as Japan’s chief negotiator for the EPA. Our other speaker will be Minako Morita-Jaeger, who is a fellow at the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex. 

Bill

* © Photo by CALIN STAN

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